Andrew Chitko [mergela]
What business are you in and what is your position? Are you an owner or an executive?
I currently own Merge Consulting and Social Media in Redondo Beach, California 90278 where my primary function is as a business strategist with a focus on social media management.
Once I learn the goals of a particular company, I create a custom-made plan of attack for that business. I look at the entire operation and make recommendations in any area where improvement is possible.
Can you provide a link to a site where we can get to know more about you or your business.
What is your story? How did you come to run a business?
I've always wanted to go into business for myself but it took a while to find my niche. Although it can tend to be annoying even to myself, I am constantly scrutinizing every business I set foot in. I look at little details and notice when something isn't working like it should be. I understand good service and see a lot of bad. I take notice of minor details that enhance a customer's experience and I understand what works.
This attention to detail is the cornerstone of how I serve my clients. I have always had the ability to look at a business situation as a unique entity, get down to its essence, and figure out the strategic measures necessary to maximize the goals of the operation. Quite simply...I question every detail and challenge my clients to make sure every detail of their operation happens the way it does for a reason. There should always be a reason for everything you do.
Previously, I was the Sales and Training Manager at Lakes Entertainment (LACO), a publicly traded company. While at Lakes I led training initiatives and wrote policies and procedures for some of the most prestigious casinos in the country including: Bellagio, Mirage, MGM Grand, Wynn-Las Vegas, New York New York, TI, and countless others. I wrote, produced, directed and hosted a training video for World Poker Tour that was consistently praised by casino executives of these properties.
Prior to that I was the Corporate Sales Manager at WestsideRentals.com where I was instrumental in changing the sales culture from high-pressure sales to customer service oriented. In addition, I immediately recognized the need for IP tracking practices in order to prevent illegal distribution of password information. In a short period of time, I'm proud of the changes and long term effects my decisions had on the company.
It was my work background, my entrepreneurial spirit, and my passion for social networking and business strategy that lead me to start Merge Consulting and Social Media in Redondo Beach.
What are the most recent changes being carried out in your business, and why?
I'm in the business of change, really. Business strategist, social media manager, online marketing...all of these things are changing so fast it's nearly impossible to keep up. Seriously, by the time I finish this interview there's a very good chance that something I use on a daily basis in the social media world has changed. That's what business owners need though is someone to stay on top of this technology and change so they can focus on running their business.
A business is based on creating relations of trust with clients, suppliers, employees... How do you create and maintain yours?
In one word...honesty. I'm going to be honest with my clients and try and help them in any way possible. Sometimes I have to say things that a business owner might not want to hear, but that's the job. If I see a way for a business to improve, but remain silent because I'm worried about hurting people's feelings, then I'm not doing the job I was hired to do. I will always be honest with my clients.
What is “selling” for you? What is your technique? What is the greatest lesson you have learned about selling?
Selling to me is business....every aspect of it. From customer service and public relations to marketing and advertising. Sales is every single thing you could be doing and should be doing to make your business better. Sales is strategy and strategy is the backbone and basis of everything you do to earn business and satisfy your customers. A business without goals and strategies implemented to achieve those goals is a business that will soon be extinct.
Sales technique is always dependent on the customer, and the customer is determined by the product or service. Each business situation is unique and needs to be looked at like an individual person. Sure, businesses will share characteristics or sell the same thing, but no two businesses are exactly alike. My technique is to work inside out. I want to figure out who the company I'm working for is, what their goals are, who their audience is and what makes that audience tick. Then I use the proper channels to get to that audience with a message they'll be receptive to.
What techniques do you use to obtain customer loyalty?
Not to sound like I'm repeating myself, but strategies always vary. However, I believe the underlying component in creating customer loyalty is in making your customer feel genuinely appreciated.
In social media, I'm often appalled at what I see. If a customer posts something positive about your business on a social media site that you control or have a social media manager do it...like Facebook, Twitter, or Yelp it's extremely important that you thank that customer or acknowledge that you have seen the remarks. They don't have to take the time to do that. They're doing you a favor.
The same thing can be said for a negative customer comment. These people went to your place of business, spent money, were not happy with the experience and then took the time to write to your business...or about your business. Too many business owners look at these types of situations and shrug their shoulders and don't know how to handle reputation repair and maintenance. I view these situations as some of the best opportunities to gain a loyal customer. Why? Because these people don't expect you to respond. They expect you to not care because that's the status quo. But really any customer with a complaint is generally seeking one thing...someone to listen and acknowledge them.
How do you generate ideas for your business? Are you used to brainstorming with someone?
As a consultant everything I do stems from getting to know my client's business and goals. Without that collaboration and information sharing, the results would never be as positive. I ask a ton of questions so I can learn as much as possible about what the client needs.
Do you see in your business a margin to optimize processes and reduce costs? How would you do that?
Actually...that's exactly what I do as a consultant. I scrutinize every single detail about an operation and question everything. I don't accept the status quo simply because it's the status quo. I am always trying to make my client's business more efficient, optimizing processes, reducing cost, improving customer service, etc.
Clients do not always know what they want. How do you correctly interpret their comments and requests?
Communication is so important. The devil is in the details and often the details hide in obscure corners and have to be retrieved. If I'm not understanding exactly what my client is trying to convey to me, then simply put I have failed to ask the right questions.
I pride myself on being extremely detail-oriented and the best way for me to get the tough details is to ask a lot of questions. I've even been known to ask some really dumb questions in a long line of questions just to keep the client talking and giving me information. It's amazing how many times "A-ha!" moments occur in these conversations and often from a question where you least expected the answer you needed.
If you're not sure what the client wants, you haven't asked the right questions.
What is your advice for surviving the economic crisis?
There will always be times of economic downturn but those companies and individuals that are defined by innovation will always stay ahead of the competition.
Think outside the box. Question everything that you're doing as a business. Experiment. Adjust. Don't be afraid to fail. Keep looking for ways to stay ahead of your competition. Update that old website. Work your social media channels. Have a vision for your brand. Give your employees more direction. Enhance your customers' experience.
And if all that sounds impossible while running your own business, then look into hiring a good consultant. Depending on the size of your operation you can usually retain one for roughly the salary of a part-time employee, and the benefits can often far outweigh that.
Feel free to visit my website: http://www.mergela.com
Redondo Beach Los Angeles, CA